L.O. Smith’s Stockholm: The places associated with the vodka king
Stora Badstugatan (Sveavägen)
The busy Sveavägen road in central Stockholm has had many names. For many years, it was known as Stora Badstugatan (literally “the big bathing house street”). Along this lively road, the city’s tradesmen and merchants set up stalls and shops. One of them was Åkerman, who hired L.O. Smith as a sales assistant. Stora Badstugatan was also where farmers from the countryside entered the city from the north. Equipped with goods to sell, they steered their horse carriages straight to Hötorget (the Hay Market).
So were there many bathing houses there? It is possible – the traveling peasants would have needed somewhere to freshen up after a long journey.
Until the end of the 19th century, the Old Town was the center of trade in Stockholm. One of the most exclusive addresses was Skeppsbron, with a row of historic trading houses next to the harbor. This is where the shipowners and wholesalers lived. It was also the gateway to the rest of the world, thanks to chartered companies like the East India Company.
In February 1856, L.O. Smith moved into “the Hebbeska house” on Skeppsbron 32. An inscription on the front door reveals that the house was built in 1647. The building was named after the wholesaler Christian Hebbe the elder from Greifswald. He settled in Stockholm in the 18th century and bought a house on Skeppsbron 36. His sons later started their own businesses and invested in their own properties. One of them turned Skeppsbron 32 into a grand townhouse with an extra floor and a mansard roof. He also built a magnificent staircase with forged railing, and the apartments were furnished in Gustavian style. The Gustavian era ran from 1772 through 1809 and is associated with a strong influence from France and a new interest in the fine arts.
L.O. Smith lived in this historic environment during a few intense years, as he started his career as a young businessman and wholesaler. In this bustling neighborhood, he also met his first love and future wife – Marie Louise Collin, who lived at Skeppsbron 40.
Since the 14th century, numerous royal coronations and weddings have taken place under the arches of the Storkyrkan church. On May 3, 1860, King Charles XV was crowned here. Earlier that year, on January 31, it was L.O. Smith who stood by the altar, eager to make Miss Marie Louise Collin his wife. The wedding party was held at the new Hôtel Rydberg at the public square Gustav Adolfs Torg. The day was tainted by the fact that Smith learned a few secrets about his new father-in-law Collin, the royal house’s private dentist. Viscount Soto Maior, the Portuguese minister in Stockholm, revealed to Smith that Collin was heavily in debt. Smith ended up paying the entire bill for the lavish wedding himself.
Having a summer residence was a natural part of the lifestyle of Stockholm’s well-to-do inhabitants. This custom was established in the 17th century, when central Stockholm was surrounded by rural areas. This is where Stockholm’s bourgeoisie and wealthy merchants gathered in the summers, to get away from the congestion and stench of the Old Town alleys. Some of these country houses, for example Ersta, Rålambshov, Kristinehov, and Piperska muren, had a distinct stately character.
L.O. Smith acquired a summer house in the lush area of Svartviksudden by the lake Ulvsundasjön. Here he built an Italian style wooden villa on two floors. The house had two names: Smithska villan and Sofielund. After only a year or so, Smith sold the area around Svartvik to the paint manufacturer P.A. Schedin, who opened a factory there in the early 1870s. A couple of years later, more factories had appeared in the area: Svartvik’s starch factory and Tången’s curtain factory, which was in operation until 1956.
The Carlshäll villa was constructed at Långholmen in the southern part of Stockholm between 1837 and 1838. Carl Modéer, director of the Långholmen prison, used the building as his private residence. It had an unusual construction: the walls were not made with bricks, but with a mixture of clay and straw. Carlshäll had several owners after Modéer and his widow, and was mainly used as a summer residence. In 1874, L.O. Smith bought Carlshäll and rebuilt it for a considerable amount of money. It was transformed into a modern summer resort with all the luxury and comfort you can imagine. Running water was installed through the nearby lake. A bathroom was fitted with a shower cabin covered in zinc. The prominent architect Magnus Isaeus designed a combined billiard and music salon in Norse style. The terrace was given a shelter.
The guests were most impressed by the lush garden, full of flowers, shrubs and trees from Smith’s travels. It gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful in Stockholm, with terraces, caves, promenades and a skittle alley. As a side note, this is also where L.O. Smith set large parts of his private and professional documents on fire in September 1903.
Carlshäll was a hospitable and generous home during Smith’s time. One of the guests was the physiotherapy expert Professor Gabriel Branting and his family – including his son Hjalmar, Sweden’s future prime minister. For most of the 20th century, Carlshäll was mainly used as a nursing home. In 1989, it was turned into a conference facility. In the garden, you can still find plants that remind us of L.O. Smith’s passion for gardening.
The Bolinderska Palace
In the second half of the 19th century, Stockholm went through significant changes. The districts of Norrmalm, Kungsträdgården and Blasieholmen became increasingly important in the rapidly growing city. L.O. Smith moved to one of the most distinguished addresses in the capital: The Bolinderska Palace. This grand building was located at Södra Blasieholmshamnen, with a great view of the Royal Palace and the water. Originally, it served as a luxurious apartment block. Today, it houses several of the Grand Hôtel’s beautiful conference rooms.
The Bolinderska Palace was constructed by the industrialist and engineer Jean Bolinder between 1874 and 1877. The architect was Helgo Zettervall, who is best known for his many church restorations at the end of the 19th century, including the cathedrals in Uppsala and Lund. Zettervall also designed the main building of Lund University. His Bolinderska Palace was a dreamy building inspired by the renaissance and baroque palaces of Venice, such as Ca’Pesaro. The intricately decorated facade includes allegorical sculptures in the shape of women’s figures that symbolize architecture, literature, music and art.
L.O. Smith and his family lived in the stately apartment on the first floor. Their closest neighbor was the owner Jean Bolinder himself, who lived in the apartment on the second floor. The attic apartment was used as an art gallery. The ground floor housed Bolinder’s mechanical workshop, which may have been called a showroom today. In another room, you would find the café Indiska Caféet. For a limited time, Rörstrand had a porcelain shop there too. The interiors were lavish with magnificent woodwork, elaborate decorations, and ceiling paintings by artists like Mårten Eskil Winge and a young Carl Larsson.
Later Régis Cadier, the founder of Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel, lived in L.O. Smith’s apartment. Today, some of the rooms are available to rent for parties and conferences, including the rooms named The Scholanderska room, Mårten Winge, Hanna Winge, Blasierummet and Hugo Alfvén. A significant part of the interior design from L.O. Smith’s time remains today.
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